The Debt Panel: 'How do I settle my Dh90,000 liabilities to restore my honour?'

The former Dubai resident lost his job in 2018 and now wants to clear his debts and his name

I fell in love with Dubai when I first visited in 2007 and finally landed a job in the financial industry in the emirate 10 years later in March 2017. In 2018, my father was diagnosed with a rare cancer. I had already used up my savings to arrive and settle in Dubai, so I started sending whatever was left home to Pakistan for his treatment.

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My family now has no car, no permanent roof over our heads, no schooling for our children, no assets to sell and still I am trying to balance the loan repayments.

Healthcare costs were extremely high so I sold my car, borrowed from people and when that fell short, took out a loan. I took my father to the best hospitals and doctors. After struggling, he lost his life to the illness and passed away. My mother, who was bedridden, also had substantial medical bills.

Then in April 2018, I lost my job after a restructuring. It was the only lifeline my family had. I went home to my mother in Pakistan, where I was confident I would be able to continue to pay my liabilities. Two years on, however, I am jobless and living on loans from family and friends.

My family now has no car, no permanent roof over our heads, no schooling for our children, no assets to sell and still I am trying to balance the loan repayments. I am crushed and forced to ask for help. The outstanding loan has been moved from one agency to another. My total debts are:

Personal loan: Dh62,000 (total outstanding in May 2018)

Credit card 1: Dh8,856 (total outstanding in May 2018)

Credit card 2: Dh14,977 (total outstanding in May 2018)

Phone bill: Dh4,750

Total debt: Dh90,583

While I am corresponding with the loan provider because they have filed a police case against me, neither the bank associated with the credit cards or the telecoms provider have filed a case.

So, what will happen if I travel to the UAE? Will I have to pay a fine or go to court? I have no need to visit the GCC again; my only reason to come is to clear my name so that I have some honour left.

I’ve asked my loan provider for waivers and discounts on humanitarian grounds to enable me to proceed with settling the debt. My family and friends have raised Dh15,000 for the repayment, which is all we can afford. I offered this to the bank to help clear the loan but they rejected my offer.

I have also emailed the bank that provided the credit cards and asked for settlements but they have not replied. How do I secure a settlement to ensure my family can move on with our lives with dignity? SG, Pakistan

Debt panellist 1: R Sivaram, executive vice president, head of retail banking products, Emirates NBD

It is unfortunate you have suffered a series of financial misfortunes. I urge you to make contact with the bank that provided the credit card to ensure you are not accruing additional penalties or charges. The larger issue, of course remains the outstanding personal loan.

Get in touch with the concerned bank to pay the amount you have managed to collect from friends and family towards the outstanding and ask for a settlement plan, which the bank may choose to take a lenient view on given the adverse circumstances you have had to face.

You could also explore additional options for funding, including approaching community and charitable organisations.

Debt panellist 2: Ambareen Musa, founder and chief executive of Souqalmal.com

Since you left the UAE without settling your debts and failed to keep up with regular repayments towards these debts, the banks reserve the right to file a police case and initiate legal proceedings against you. Therefore, you could get detained or arrested at the airport when entering or transiting through the UAE. These debts may also follow you back home to Pakistan, since the banks could authorise a local debt collection agency to recover the amount owed by you.

Your aim should be to negotiate a loan settlement or restructured repayment plan with the bank in exchange for the withdrawal of the police case. However, reaching a settlement with a bank can sometimes be easier said than done. The bank may not agree with your settlement offer or you may not be in a position to accept the bank's offer.

Ideally, you should be willing to meet the bank half way to arrive at some sort of realistic settlement. The bank you owe the Dh62,000 personal loan to has rejected the Dh15,000 settlement because it is too low. You could offer to use these funds to partially pay off the loan, and request to be offered an affordable repayment plan for the remainder of the amount once you find a job. Once a solution is reached, you must obtain written proof of the withdrawn police complaint from the bank.

The alternative (and more financially sound) solution is to pay off and close your credit card debts first. Your credit card debt is going to multiply faster than your personal loan, considering the high interest rates on credit cards in the UAE. Given the amount you owe on your credit cards, reaching a settlement within the amount you have raised so far may be a realistic possibility.

On the personal front, try to find a part-time job or freelance assignment to help tide you over until you find a stable full-time job. Being able to secure a reliable source of income is the only way you can get rid of all your outstanding debts, since relatives and close friends can only go so far in bailing you out financially. Is there another family member who can take on employment to support the family, such as your spouse or sibling perhaps? You will need all the financial support you can get to help you get out of debt and back on your feet.

Debt panellist 3: Rasheda Khatun Khan, founder of Design Your Life

A debt burden can affect all areas of your life, from your financial and mental health to your lifestyle, relationships and physical health.

Staying strong to get through is essential. Compartmentalise all the areas of your life so you can see and focus on the things you can do as opposed to what you can’t do.

Also examine your debts individually. Focus on your smaller debts first. For example, use the Dh15,000 you have raised to clear the phone bill, the smaller credit card debt and part of the balance on the other credit card. This will leave you with only the personal loan and one credit card to deal with. Psychologically it will feel like less of a burden as you clear some of the debts completely.

Also, contact the UAE courts to see if you can file for bankruptcy. The legal system will help with a repayment plan for both the loan and credit card. However you must secure a regular income so you can honour the repayments going forward.

Focusing on securing this regular income is the next essential thing. Use all your contacts, friends and family to find work. Not having work is not an option. Keep a clear head and remain confident.

It’s certainly a tough call choosing debt over health of a loved one. It’s easy to dismiss smart, focused spending when overwhelmed with emotion and fear. And yet we must spend carefully even for medical costs, keeping expenses at bay where you can.

The Debt Panel is a weekly column to help readers tackle their debts more effectively. If you have a question for the panel, write to pf@thenational.ae

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